Growing a Family on One Income: Ideas for Spending Less on Clothes

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(Growing a Family on One Income is an ongoing series at Carrots. Previous posts are about being a one-car family and fitting three car seats in a Camry.)

New clothes are fun. If I had the cash to spare, I would spend way too much on clothes. But when you’re on a budget, this is a great area to make some sacrifices. When you’re expecting, it’s hugely tempting to go hog wild buying new baby clothes and maternity clothes. But it’s also completely unnecessary. Buying used clothes and accepting hand-me-downs is just the thrifty way to go (and green!).

A Few Notes on Baby/Kids Clothes:

Kids grow fast. They go from size to size in a blink of an eye. Whatever it is they’re wearing will only be worn a few months tops.

Kids wreck clothes. The harsh reality is that babies poop and vomit all over their outfits. Dressing them in anything that costs more than $5 is just silly. Older kids get dirt, grass stains, paint, and anything else you can imagine on their clothes. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t outfit your kid in something awesome for special occasions like baptisms, weddings, professional photos, etc. but for the everyday? You just don’t need brand new clothes.

People are always trying to get rid of kids clothes and maternity clothes. I can’t tell you how many garbage bags full of baby and children’s clothes friends and family have handed down to us. I bought one pair of cute leggings for Gwen and one pair of shoes for Lucy, otherwise, everything for the girls has been hand-me-downs and baby gifts from showers and they still have more clothes than their drawers can hold!

If you’re planning a baby shower, don’t put clothes on your registry! You’ll get a bajillion teensy onesies as gifts and if you don’t, you can get them second-hand for almost nothing.

If you’re buying baby clothes and cloth diapers, go gender-neutral as much as you can. If you’re blessed with another baby, you’ll have little to no clothing/cloth diapering expenses during those first months. (And cloth diapers are a great thing to add to your baby registry!)

Give needed new clothing items as gifts. We exchange gifts with our kids on St. Nicholas Day instead of Christmas and everyone gets a new pair of shoes as part of their present. It might sound stingy to give your children something they need as a gift, but that’s just how we do things at the Stewart house and our kids love St. Nicholas Day. If you fill them with treats, your kids will be excited about a new pair of shoes, promise.

And keep in mind that all you will need, regardless of how many children you have, is one girl’s wardrobe and one boy’s wardrobe that can be passed down to the next child (except if you have twins!). Having more children doesn’t mean you have to purchase an entirely new wardrobe each time!

Maternity/Women’s Wear:

Host a clothing exchange. My friends and I have been doing clothing exchanges twice a year to declutter our closets and share cute items with each other instead of sending them to Goodwill. If you’ve never done a clothing exchange, Simple Homemade has a great post about how to host one. We just pile our unwanted clothes in the car, meet at someone’s house in the evening after the kiddos are in bed, and proceed to drink red wine and eat brownies while we peruse everyone’s clothes: maternity clothes, women’s wear, kids’ clothes, baby clothes, etc. We pick out our favorites and then donate whatever is left over. It’s an excuse to have a girl’s night and everybody leaves with new-to-them clothes and a decluttered closet!

How do you keep your family’s clothing expenses at a minimum?

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  1. says

    Great series, Haley!
    I think having a really good idea of what colors/styles look best for you and your family makes a HUGE difference for clothes. I spent lots of time with a professor’s family in college and helped with household chores. I noticed that their quickly growing family (then 4, now 7 children!) was always dressed smartly even on a very tight budget because she was very selective with which colors and styles she kept for the kids’ outfits. They looked best in darker solids (red, navy, dark green, dark gray) and coordinating plaids/stripes/etc, and they didn’t have any clothes with silly words or characters. They had solid blue jeans and khaki pants/skirts in classic styles. 90% of those outfits came from hand-me-down bags, but they always looked FINE.
    It’s a lot easier to work with a smaller wardrobe if you keep your clothes in a color scheme that works for you. If every fall/winter shirt you own works with a black or tan cardigan, for example, you can use your whole closet because each item is part of a complete interchangeable outfit. It’s also easier to keep your clothing budget down if you have your weight under control. My doctor says I’m 20 pounds overweight right now, which isn’t a LOT, but it’s enough that I don’t feel good in my clothes and I have plenty of things I could still fit into but aren’t flattering right now. They look great when I have been prudent about eating and staying active. I know my spiritual value isn’t defined by my weight, but I find I have a lot more flexibility in my closet when I have been appropriately moderating my sloth at the table and the couch.

  2. says

    I was raised on hand me downs and I was the oldest!! I had cousins that passed down their clothes (some of them still with the tags on) and friends always gave us bags upon bags of awesome, stylish clothing.

    It also took me years to figure out that parents actually bought more than needed stuff for Christmas and birthdays. Way to raise those kiddos well.

  3. luisaagnes says

    I don’t have much storage space so my philosophy is like this: How many times a week do I do laundry and how many outfits are needed for that period of time? Anything extra goes.

    Also, I think critically about occasions I attend regularly– church, date nights, etc and plan three outfits for day and three outfits for night. I also keep ONE black tie outfit.

    Then I have two sets– summer and winter.

    For my son I need a few more things because they get dirty slightly faster. Also his clothes need to be more hardy, they are tougher to get clean.

    Anything outside of this criteria goes to the more needy.

    I LOVE the St. Nicholas Day idea!!! Am going to do that too when he gets a little older and is aware of things he wants/needs.



  4. says

    I love this series. For years I had no clothing budget and new clothes were a very rare occurrence. And it was fine! Often I would get gift cards for my birthday from parents and it made it a special treat as well as a practice in how much I could eke out of that one $50 card at Old Navy 🙂 I’ll never be a fashion diva and that’s just fine by me. I’m kind of shocked with how much many modern women I know spend on clothes. I just am not into it and see it as such a waste when all that money could be saved and used to (maybe) help live on one income.
    I have to add that for kids clothes I DO now shop at Land’s End for many of their things because they GUARANTEE their clothes. That is huge especially as my boys get bigger and they can put a hole in their jeans in no time flat. It’s very hard to find secondhand clothes for older boys as they just wear them out so quickly! They always have sales and the return policy is simple. Sears used to have a program like that which was awesome…I would buy a pair of jeans or whatever for like $5 on clearance and they were guaranteed and didn’t have a restriction on how many children could wear them! They sadly ended that program (ha, probably because of people like me who would actually use it…) so Land’s End it is. But, of course, I’m always up for hand me downs if I can get em!

  5. says

    You nailed it on the head with the hand-me-downs! I have two boys and a girl, the girl being the youngest and even she wears her brother’s hand-me-downs. We live on a farm, there’s no sense in wearing the cutsy, frilly girly clothes to the barn. But as you said – you get so many clothes as gifts, the girl still has plenty of pink (gag me) in her closet. I’ve hardly bought clothes for my middle son. We give clothes at birthdays and holidays too, there’s nothing wrong with giving things that someone needs, they learn to appreciate it more than the “fun” stuff. My oldest son just started public kindergarten, he loves school, and I got him a few new shirts for school, but off the clearance rack. And the boys will be getting new boots for their upcoming birthdays since they’ve about worn through their old ones. For me, it’s not just about the money, it’s about teaching kids that the important things in life aren’t “things”, it’s having a loving family, feeling safe and secure, and having what we need even if we don’t have what we want. 😉

    • Haley says

      “it’s about teaching kids that the important things in life aren’t “things”, it’s having a loving family, feeling safe and secure, and having what we need even if we don’t have what we want.” That is a great insight!

  6. says

    This is a great post! I especially love the clothing exchange idea.
    I grew up on hand-me-downs and am still growing up on hand-me-ups from my more stylish sisters, and love that our clothing budget is like $20/month (and we rarely use it).
    I also appreciate the comment about being choosey about style/color for the kids. I got rid of tons of baby hand-me-downs with stains and extreme signs of wear just because we had so many and I wanted to be picky about letting my boy wear yucky clothes (even though he’ll make them yucky eventually, himself). I love the idea of shoes for gifts, too. Especially with little kids, gifts can be practical and they don’t mind.
    I’ve found some awesome deals for me recently at this website:
    I find it hard to find petite clothes on sale and this has been a great resource for me; even with shipping, I pay a fraction of the cost the clothes normally are and they have great quality clothes. I’m pretty pumped because I got my first order with a PERFECT pair of jeans for $4 yesterday. 🙂 Anyway, that link will give you $10 off. 🙂
    And that’s all from me. Thanks for the info and all the great ideas, Haley!

  7. Amy says

    Great article! Another one here growing up on hand-me-downs. We have 5 kids (older now) but they too have grown up on hand-me-downs. The girls still share things around with each other, their friends & cousins as they outgrow them or just get tired of them. It’s wonderful. Always so much fun to get that bag of ‘new-to-us’ clothes from a friend. So proud that my kids know how to shop Good Will & Clearance racks too now that they are older. It’s a ‘sin’ almost to us to pay full price for anything. LOL! Love the idea of the clothes exchange too. We just might have to give that a try in our little circle of friends. 😉

  8. says

    We are big Goodwill shoppers and I scour the Target clearance rack whenever I’m there. If you buy a size or two bigger on clearance you end up spending 1/4 of what you would otherwise!

  9. says

    Funny, this topic is in my drafts of my blog, and I’ve wrote on it before. We shop second hand only. We have great luck at consignment and thrift stores. I ask my friends if they have any clothes to pass on, or buy cheap, and they usually do. I keep to my list at garage and rummage sales. The only new clothing I’ve bought this year was a First Communion dress. Another plus to shopping second hand stores is there are no sleazy ads, or inappropriate window dressings like at the mall. My kids are expressing their own sense of style.

    • Haley says

      Hadn’t ever thought of the perk of avoiding the sleazy advertising! I may or may not have slightly brainwashed my kids about the mall….every time we drive by Benjamin says, “that the mall were it’s soooooo boooooooring.”

  10. says

    I’m struggling right now with postpartum clothes. I was lucky enough to snap back to (close to) pre-pregnancy size really quickly, but I am bustier and squishier, and my needs are different. I’m constantly bending over to tend the baby, and find myself hating all that cleavage constantly on display. I find that regular t-shirts work better for me discreetly nursing (just pulling them up a bit) than nursing tops (where I end up revealing an awful lot of top-boob). Plus Pip is always tugging on my collar and stretching it out. My solution has been to invest in a lot of inexpensive classic T-shirts (with help from my generous mama), and one button-front dress for quick breastfeeding in fancier situations. But since everything gets barfed on every single day, it’s all quickly washed and I don’t need much!

    • Haley says

      Totally agree about the top boob issue with nursing tops. I just pull up my shirt and wear a tank underneath to cover my tummy.

  11. says

    This is a great post! I’m a huge fan of consignment, and one of my favorite parts about moving from my sleepy little town to our big University city is the awesome new thrift stores. DKNY for $5?? YES PLEASE.

    I’ve also found that when I’m saving money it’s actually better to shop clearance racks at mall stores (babyGap, Ann Taylor Loft maternity) than full-price places like Kohl’s or Walmart. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve been surprised at how many of my friends assume they are saving money just because they are shopping at “lower end” stores, when in reality they end up paying a TON more because they are paying full price.

    • Haley says

      Interesting point about shopping clearance at higher end stores! I did get a bunch of good clearance deals on Benjamin’s baby clothes from before any of our friends had kids to share hand me downs with us.

  12. says

    Ok I love this series because this is my life! Here is my clothes secret for my $10/month budget of clothes:
    I know not everyone has them, but in our area, EVERYONE has them. Schools. Churches. Moms clubs. Everyone. It costs a buck or two to get in (and up to 5 if you want to get in first) and you buy gently used clothes. Every sale is different, as well as the score, but guess what? One day, I got 63 clothing items (almost an entire wardrobe for my little boy) for $9! Seriously.
    I love finding deals on clothes for the kids. 🙂

  13. says

    I just love your posts! This is so true and excellent. I really love the idea of the clothing exchange party. That would be amazing! Even if you just did it for kids, but moms only and lots of red wine and brownies!

    • Haley says

      yes! so fun! Last night I went to a friend’s baby shower and two of my friends were wearing my old clothes and I wore another friends outfit we snatched up from the last clothing exchange 🙂

  14. says

    My mom used Christmas and birthdays to give us “useful” stuff too, and because we didn’t have too many clothes/etc. already, we found it exciting.

    Actually, not only did my mom give us clothes, she also gave us little workbooks that taught phonics and math. We thought they were just another kind of coloring book and that it was exciting to write in them. 🙂

  15. Tina says

    Where we live there is a thriving online sales environment through sites like kijiji and These places are great for finding used clothing and kids equipment for sale. My older kids are past the age where we get a lot if hand-me-downs and they are much much slimmer than average so it can be hard to dress them. I watch sales at the one place that has jeans slim enough that they don’t fall off and then I stick up in one size up. We also have a lot consignment stores in our city, so if I don’t have time to scour ads, I can go to a consignment store and find just about anything the kids might need for a very low price.

    We live in Canada and cold weather gear is serious business and has always been one area where I buy new and very high quality. There is one particular brand here, , that sells very high quality out wear for reasonable prices. Often their designs are gender neutral and the quality is enough to stand up to several children hard wearing winter activity. I have winter pieces that have bee worn by all three of my kids and that I was able to sell for more than half of retail. For our oldest child we bought a snowsuit in one size too big for her first winter and I pinned the arms and legs closed because she was little. The next winter she wore the same suit with the arms and legs rolled a bit with mittens and soft soled winter boots. The third winter she wore the same suit with the arms and legs all the way down with mittens and boots again. Her younger two brothers wore te same suit, each for two or three winters. So for my initial investment of $90 for an infants snowsuit, I got 9 winters wear out of it and then I sold it for $50. Sometimes the best thing to do is spend more money, but wisely.

  16. Darci says

    Another thing to help keep costs down is knowing some basic sewing. I’ve been able to turn many pants with a ripped hem into a nice set of shorts to extend their life. Also, learning all the tricks to getting stains out has saved more than one item of clothing for me; meaning I don’t have to replace it!

  17. says

    We were fortunate to receive a whole suitcase of hand me downs that got us through the first 6 months or so with our first son without us needing to purchase anything. Then all those clothes have be handed down to my younger son. Every hand me down or gift helps! The same friend that gave us the suitcase of baby clothes will glance through her drawers when we come over and usually give us a piece or two that she doesn’t need, and one of those items was a jacket that we got a ton of use out of! When I buy clothes I usually buy things that are a bit big, and as my son is pretty small on the growth charts he’ll often be able to wear that same item for a while before it becomes too small (even through two summers or two winters). I love buying clothes, but I’ve been trying to be budget conscious, so I asked for items I needed for my bday (like a new pair of flats), and I just placed my first order from Thred Up. I haven’t received it yet, but the prices on name brand women’s clothes were ridiculous! I don’t find the deals on kids’ clothes to be as good as I can usually work the sales to get items new for a similar price. Anyway, great post, thanks!

  18. says

    I have clothing that I’ve been wearing since high school (I don’t want to think about how far distant in the past that is). In fact, some of it is wearing out and I’m not sure what I’m going to do! 🙂

    I also limit myself to buying two pairs of maternity pants per pregnancy. It keeps the spending down, and I have enough baggy shirts and pajama pants to last the rest of the time.

    I will admit, I am not the best dressed woman here! 😀 But, oh well, the boys are worth it!

    • Haley says

      Yup! I’d rather live on one income with second hand clothes! Or maybe it’s just that I avoid working because I’m allergic to professional/business clothing….it always looks so frumpy on me!

  19. says

    While I have all boys, I did purchase a couple of pink cloth diapers in case we ever have a girl. I figured my boys were manly enough to sport a little pink. No complaints yet!

    • Haley says

      I put blue ones on the girls all the time and they don’t seem to mind! 🙂 And I have one cute girly diaper with little hearts on it that I couldn’t resist.

  20. says

    I buy used for the kids regularly, particularly shoes! They go through them so quickly. Generally, they only get new clothes on their birthday and at Christmas, and even then I am the queen of sales. I’m particularly proud of the winter gear I got for Ginny last spring on ultra clearance. Got both the jacket (with a removable fleece liner) and the snowpants for half the price of the jacket alone. I also maximize points programs (when I do shop new, I primarily shop for them at a children’s clothing store that offers airmiles which I can then convert into movie passes for date nights!) and consignment stores. We were also very blessed to be given so many gently used clothes from friends. I only wish I had room to store the outgrown pieces until someone else in my circle might need them, but no one is heading down the family-way road for a long time.

    Shopping economically for clothes for myself and my Beloved is a little trickier. With me being plus sized and my Beloved working in a very professional office means that there is rarely much to choose from in our local thrift stores. I watch for good sales (like the deal on bras I got a few weeks ago), and make the most of coupons and double discounts.

    • Haley says

      Second hand shoes are the best! Most of Benjamin’s shoes we bought new but they’re very good quality so Lucy has worn them, too. We do have to get new dress shirts for Daniel sometimes. But his mom is also very generous about gifting him some clothes for Christmas.

  21. Anne says

    One comment mentioned a First Communion Dress. We bought one for our oldest girl, new, and so far three of her sisters have worn it as well. I make a new veil for each of them as a keepsake but the dress is now a tradition. The baptism dress that my children have been baptized in (even the boys) is the same one their Daddy, Aunts and Uncle, cousins, and even their Grandmother and Great Uncle were baptized in. We count 20 uses so far. Hand-me-downs are not only money-savers also memory-makers.

    • says

      We had our wee-lings’ baptismal gown made from my wedding dress and veil. It was a great way to get meaningful use out of something that would never get used again (and cost too much for me to feel comfortable getting rid of in any other way). I still have all the parts of my wedding dress that didn’t go into the baptismal gown, should I decide to have something else made for the kids in the future (like handkerchiefs for their weddings or something). And hopefully, someday, I will have grandchildren who will use our baptismal gown.

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